Thursday, January 27, 2011

And now for something completely different...

There is a strong liberal consensus today that young people need to be educated about sex, that the stifled prohibitions and innuendos of the past need to be replaced by frank, open discussion. Channel 4's new series The Joy of Teen Sex is a kind of logical conclusion: a TV series in which curious youngsters ask sex experts for advice about their weird sexual maladies or doubts.

The Joy of Teen Sex pulls no punches, showing close-up shots of genitalia and simulated sex acts, and giving a wide range of advice. Last night a gay teenager was introduced to the pleasures of sado-masochistic sex and a teenage couple were counselled to confront the conservative parents who didn't want them having sex.

Yet it struck me that TJOTS, by focusing on sexually active teenagers, may be distorting the extent to which most British teenagers are active. In their hurry to shake off taboos over teenage sexual activity, they may instead be shifting them onto chastity: increasing the emotional pressure on teenagers to become active, worsening the unhappiness of those who cannot.

Then there are doubts about some of their "experts". Last night featured one teenage boy who hated the idea of giving his girlfriend oral sex. In the process of fixing this boy's problem the experts gave him some advice on how best to stimulate his girlfriend, using a large padded model of the vagina. The expert advised him, among other things, to stimulate her G-spot:

Expert: "Also work on the G-spot inside."

Girl: "Where is that, exactly? 'Cos I thought it was just a myth."

Expert: "It's not a myth. Every lady has a G-spot."

Eh... hang on. King's College London published a study last year in which they compared female twins and found that there was no genetic basis for self-reported existence of a G-spot:

A possible explanation for the lack of heritability may be that women differ in their ability to detect their own (true) G-spots. However, we postulate that the reason for the lack of genetic variation—in contrast to other anatomical and physiological traits studied—is that there is no physiological or physical basis for the G-spot.

Some specialists suggest that women who cannot find their G-spot (which might not exist) may feel themselves somehow dyfunctional or abnormal. Yet TJOTS expert is perfectly confident, speaking as if the case is closed - even while the debate continues.

Meanwhile other medical doctors have been responding to TJOTS. Dr Petra Boynton said she had been approched by the producers before the show was made, but that she had "reservations from the outset" and refused to be involved:

The phrase that put me off supporting the programme most was ‘Sex is the most important thing in a teenager’s life’. It may surprise you, but I profoundly disagree. ‘Sex’ may be important to some teens some of the time, but not to all teens all the time. For many young people the most important thing in their lives may be their friends, their schooling, hobbies or sports, their pets, their faith, music or a whole slew of other stuff I’m probably to old and boring to know about....

The majority of young people (2/3 of the UK population) do not have ‘sex’ (at least defined as penis in vagina intercourse) until they are 16 or over (the UK’s age of consent). Many young people aged under 18 have not have sex or a relationship. Those having sex at a very young age tend to be more vulnerable due to numerous reasons (covered here) and are of particular concern to educators, healthcare staff and youth workers....

Critics of sex education often argue that talking about sex encourages early experimentation, which is not accurate. However, you can see why critics get worried when young people are being encouraged to view sex as the cornerstone of their entire lives, when for many it isn’t (at least not all the time).
Another, Dr Stuart Flanagan, criticised the programme on Twitter:

#thejoyofteensex is frustrating because they are getting info re common concerns WRONG. Did they ask the Screen Dr to review the script??

Average time b/n penetration to climax is NOT 7 mins it is 3-4 mins. Plenty of research to back it up #thejoyofteensex 's random stats

So is #thejoyofteensex saying no oral sex is a relationship deal breaker? What about trust, loyalty, kindness? Aren't they sexy?

#thejoyofteensex isn't a realistic view of sexual health services, or young people. Plus you can see a male Dr/Nurse/advisor if you want to!

#thejoyofteensex "the average u16 has slept with 3 people" WRONG! For most u16s it's zero, <1/3>

And so on.

So The Joy of Teen Sex is an odd one. Standing as a source for curious teenagers to learn about sex, it seems instead to be repeating questionable "facts". It may also normalise sexual activity among teens to the extent that the inactive feel like abnormal failures. Not sure how healthy all that really is.


  1. Thank you, Shane. Well said.

    Many years ago, when I was studying for my masters, I completed an assignment about Goffman's theory of hyper-ritualisation (how media portrayal can become a reality, or "what you see is what you get"). And so the portrayal of teen sex in #thejoyofteensex has begun to bother me.

    It is difficult for people like me working in sex education to tell it as it is when there is such high profile distortion.

    I've been trying to organise my thoughts about this and I have concluded that I should look at #thejoyofteensex for what it is - an attempt to get viewing figures up, and lots of shock horror press coverage, not an academic study, not an educational programme, and definitely representative, accurate or sensitive - based on my knowledge and experience of teenagers, working in contraception and sexual health and sex education, experience which spans 35 unlimited years.

    I can only conclude by saying that #thejoyofteensex is very simply an unequivocal media success, and nothing more.

  2. of course I meant and definitely NOT representative, accurate or sensitive

  3. Thanks CE, and good point about the "media success". I suppose the sad truth is that I might never have written about this had The Joy of Teen Sex seemed highly accurate, thoughtful and practical. Bad publicity is publicity.


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